My Lady Quicksilver Page 27

Lynch took a step away. “Go via the south wing and wait until the clock tower chimes ten. The guards will be changing their shift.” He tucked the towel into itself, uncertain whether he was doing the right thing. A thought flashed into mind: if he couldn’t hand her over to the prince consort now, how was he going to do it in when the time came?

Mercury’s head. Or his.

“Go,” he said, before he changed his mind. “Get out of here.”


It was a long, slow climb to his rooms and he barely noticed any of it. Once he’d left the warm steamy chamber, his mind had started working again.

What the hell was he doing? Lynch knew what she was doing and doing well—testing his resolve, slowly turning him away from his purpose. He hadn’t missed her words about a challenge to her leadership. She’d meant to set him upon the mechs tonight and they both knew it.

But had she meant anything else she’d said? Or was seducing him just a way to soften him? His fist clenched. He highly suspected she was playing him, though whether he’d managed to inflict some damage on her own psyche, he didn’t know.

This had to stop. He had less than a week to “find” Mercury and deliver her to the Echelon. The first part seemingly the easier of the two tasks. He needed to focus himself and think about what he was going to do before he found himself played for a fool.

Lynch stopped in front of the door to Mrs. Marberry’s study, the scent of lemon-infused perfume flavoring the air. Here was another reason his footsteps dragged. Guilt suffused him. He’d left Rosa this afternoon only to find her gone when he returned. After his actions in the observatory, it was little wonder.

When he was in her presence, he hadn’t once thought of Mercury. Rosa eclipsed all thoughts of any other woman. Yet one steamy encounter in the bathhouse had proven him as susceptible as any other man.

Both women intrigued him in their ways. Mercury was a mystery, designed to be solved. A challenge. Sex.

And Rosa? His stomach clenched. He wasn’t quite sure what she meant to him. Her slightly bawdy humor intrigued him and he found himself seeking her out increasingly. The shocking truth was that he liked spending time with her. She drove him insane with her little games, but the thought of them made him smile—a feeling of lightness when she was around, as if the sun shone just that little bit brighter.

So why then had he betrayed her in such a way? Each step away from the steam room only made him feel more uneasy with his actions. He’d lost his head for a moment, taken pleasure for pleasure’s sake. The agony of it speared through him. He wasn’t the sort of man who could bed two women at the same time. His actions tonight had taken the choice from him, and for a moment he almost hated Mercury for taking Rosa from him. It wasn’t a fair thought though—he’d been the one at blame. The one who hadn’t been able to deny himself.

And it damn well shouldn’t matter. Today had beguiled him in ways he had to turn his back on. He had a job to do and a week to do it in. If he didn’t wall himself off from these distractions, then none of this would matter. He’d be executed in the atrium.

Rubbing at his chest, he pushed into Rosa’s study. She’d gone home long ago, but the ghost of her remained in her fragrance and the meticulous neatness of the room. A vein in Lynch’s temple throbbed. He had to forget her. She appealed to a future that didn’t exist for him.

The heady trail of her perfume, however, wouldn’t let him forget. He followed it through his study, to the previously locked door of his private rooms. Warm candlelight filled his bedroom, the candle sitting in a puddle of wax. She’d evidently expected him long before.

There was a note on his pillow and something small and black beside it. Lynch frowned before realizing what it was.

He crossed slowly to the bed. The letter tempted him. His fingers almost itched to touch it, but he’d made his decision. Mrs. Marberry needed to be forgotten—for her own sake as much as his. No matter how much he longed to see her again.

Pull yourself together. Focus. He crumpled the letter in his fist and threw it in the cold grate where it landed with a soft exhale of white ash. The velvet button however…that he kept, slipping into his pocket as a reminder of what could have been.

Then he turned and headed for his armoire and the stark leather body armor that awaited him. He had work to do.


Fog boiled through the East End, filling the close-knit streets and obscuring the houses below. Lynch peered across the disembodied rooftops, rubbing at his knuckles absently. This was a dangerous part of town, ruled by cutthroat human gangs and the Devil of Whitechapel himself, one of the few rogue blue bloods who’d fought free of his fate and carved his own living outside of Echelon power.

The city walls loomed in the distance, keeping the Echelon in and the human rabble out. Both groups seemed to prefer it that way, and it was an easy way of distinguishing who belonged where.

Sound skittered off the tiles behind him and a half glance alerted him to the arrival of Byrnes. The other man moved with catlike grace along the ridge of the house, fog stirring around his boots as he silently surveyed the world. The taste of coal was thick in the air, like the exhale of a pipe-smoker’s breath.

“Well?” Lynch asked.

“I found an entrance to Undertown,” Byrnes murmured, kneeling beside him. His cold gaze raked the fog. Garrett was a leader of men, but Byrnes was the only choice when it came to hunting in dark spaces. He liked to be alone, liked the shadows. “I wish you’d brought more men.”

“I’ve had that lecture from Doyle already. I want to observe tonight, not attack.” Lynch scratched at his jaw. He’d let her go but that meant nothing. He needed Mercury’s secrets, to discover if what she had said about the mechs was true. “Where’s the entrance to Undertown?”

“Behind a whorehouse in Limey,” Byrnes replied. “Trapdoor around the back that looks like it leads to a cellar. Someone’s cut a hole down into the ELU tunnels.”

No doubt the brothel fronted as a smuggling den then. Undertown existed for enterprising types. Lynch’s eyes narrowed. “A guard?”

“I slipped him,” Byrnes replied. “He’s too busy fondling the merchandise.”

“Let’s move, then.”

The tiles were slick beneath Lynch’s boots, but he moved like liquid through the night, knowing that Byrnes followed. Fierce joy arose in him as he leaped across a narrow alley and landed on a nearby roof, his feet barely touching before he raced up the steep slope of the roof. This was the only time he felt truly free, unhindered by responsibility and duty. Byrnes might frown on him taking such an active role in the hunt, but Lynch needed it, now more than ever.

With a sharp gesture, he indicated Byrnes to take the lead once they reached Jamaica Street. The silence of the world was strangely eerie now that martial law had descended. People no doubt prowled the streets—there weren’t enough guards to police every rookery—but they kept their outings quiet.

A whispered argument caught his ear, ghosting through the fog. He ignored it, trying to stay low on the roofline and out of the stark moonlight.

And then something about the words caught his ear. A voice he knew only too well. “You must be mistaken,” Mrs. Marberry said quite clearly, her voice echoing through the reaches. “I’ve paid my lease for the month.”

Lynch stopped in his tracks. What the hell was she doing out? One glance showed Byrnes vanishing into the shadows. Lynch ought to move on; duty beckoned. He’d made his decision earlier about Mrs. Marberry and he intended to stick with it.

Then a man’s low-laughed reply made every hair on the back of his neck lift, the world muting down to gray shadows tinged with red. Lynch knew that sort of laugh. He was moving before he could think.


Rosalind leaned against the brick wall, trying not to breathe too deeply. Her temporary landlord reeked of gin.

The butcher leered down her bodice, not even making pretense at decency. “I don’t recall that transaction.”

“Would you like me to fetch the receipt?” she replied through her teeth. She knew precisely what he was up to. A widow was considered fair game here in the East End and she’d been lucky to be unmolested for so long. Of course, if he knew what she was planning—how easy it would be to slit his throat—then he might not be so interested.

She stilled her impulses. A body in the streets would raise questions that she didn’t need right now. Someone like Mrs. Marberry would deal with this in other ways.

“I shall look for it,” she said. “Perhaps you would prefer to speak to my brother Jack about the misunderstanding?” It rankled to involve a man, but sometimes it was quicker. Rosalind wasn’t above using whatever tool was needed for the task.

Taking a step to the side, she jerked back as the butcher slammed a meaty hand against the wall beside her face. “Let’s not cause trouble we don’t need,” he said, looking around. “You and I, we can come at some sort of arrangement.”

The press of his body almost made her gag. She was half tempted to trigger the blade in her iron hand and shove it up underneath his fat chin, just to see the piggish gleam in his eyes disappear.

“Listen here—” she began, when a shadow swooped down from above.

The butcher disappeared. One moment, his gap-toothed smirk was in her face and the next he was slammed up against the wall by a cloaked figure. The stranger held the butcher by one hand, his fingers digging into the man’s throat with ease. Rosalind’s mouth parted in shock as she recognized the harsh, aquiline features and cold burning gleam of Lynch’s eyes.

What was he doing here? Her stomach twisted itself in knots as she mentally raked her attire. She wore nothing of Mercury’s and she’d liberally sprayed herself with perfume before leaving her home. Unless the imprint of what had happened in the steamy bathing room beneath the guild had left some sort of invisible mark—a scarlet letter painted against her forehead.

Had he followed her from the guild? She was rarely careless, but she knew her head had not been in a clear space of mind. Instead, frustration and sexual desire had raked through her, driving her half-mad with impatience. She’d had to get out of there before she marched back in and demanded her dues. This was twice now he’d left her on the edge, her body thrumming with unfulfilled need.

I don’t need to chase you… You’ll come back to me.

He was right. Even now her body betrayed her, fierce hunger beating in her breast as she eyed that hard, muscular frame—a body she knew almost every inch of now.

“Do you know who I am?” Lynch asked quietly.

“Ye-es.” A hoarse reply. The scent of urine filled the air. “Please—”

“Keep your mouth shut.” Lynch’s voice was almost unrecognizable, almost metallic. A knife appeared in his other hand and he pressed the sharp edge to the man’s throat and leaned on it just enough to break the skin. “This woman is under my protection, do you understand?”

Those piggy eyes widened and the butcher made a whimpering sound that could have been assent. Rosalind took a nervous step back. The demon rode him hard tonight. Her hand slid into her pocket and gripped the hilt of the pistol strapped to her thigh. Then let go. She didn’t quite know what to do.

“If you ever come near her again, I’ll cut your throat,” Lynch whispered. “And nobody will ever find the body.” His gaze dropped as the knife moved an inch, slicing through skin like it was paper. Blood slid between the rolls of the butcher’s chin. “Her lease is free for six months, do you understand? And all the other women who rent off you—you don’t touch them either.” He leaned close, menace radiating from him. “Don’t ever think I won’t have someone watching.”

“No, sir,” the butcher gasped, swallowing against the blade.

Another rasp of the knife. Rosalind watched in morbid fascination as Lynch sliced the man from ear to ear, the pressure just firm enough to part the skin. The butcher was barely even bleeding but he’d remember it. And when he looked in the mirror in the morning to shave, he’d see evidence of this night.

Lynch shoved away from him and the man tumbled to the cobbles, crying in great, racking sobs. “Go,” he said coldly, wiping the edge of the knife against his breeches. “Before I change my mind and have you arrested for breaking curfew.”

A quick scramble on the cobbles, then the butcher staggered past her, so frightened he didn’t even seem to see her. Rosalind pressed back against the bricks to avoid him, then slowly looked up.

Lynch breathed hard, staring down at his gloved hands. He closed his eyes, his entire body trembling.

Something was wrong. Rosalind wet her lips and pushed away from the building.

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